Albany Medical Center Honors its Fourth and Longest-Tenured President

James J. Barba Physicians Pavilion Dedicated

Recognizing his quarter century of remarkable leadership, today a major building at Albany Medical Center was officially named the James J. Barba Physicians Pavilion.

At a dedication ceremony at the Medical Center, James J. Barba, Albany Medical Center’s president emeritus, was feted as a “steadfast citizen of the Capital Region and a steward of the Medical Center, who led it for 25 years with intelligence, wisdom, vision, and a clear-eyed commitment to its mission.”

Barba, who served with great distinction as president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center from 1995-2020, and whose connection to Albany Medical Center spans four decades, is credited with saving the institution from financial ruin in the 1990s and putting it on a firm path to become the region’s leading health care provider, with its 766-bed hospital, offering the widest range of medical and surgical services, and Albany Medical College and its biomedical research enterprise. Barba also laid the foundation for the Albany Med Health System, which currently has six members that stretch the Medical Center’s specialized care into the North Country and mid-Hudson Valley.

In his remarks today, Robert T. Cushing, chair of the Board of Directors of the Albany Med Health System, paid homage to Barba, saying “truly there would be no Albany Medical Center without Jim Barba. In fact, we would not be standing here today. Through a brilliant strategy and many difficult decisions, he brought Albany Medical Center back from the brink of financial collapse.”

In doing so, “he created the region’s leading health care provider – a vast organization delivering a scope of medical care typically available only in major cities. And because of him, adults and children with the most severe illnesses and injuries receive highly specialized, lifesaving care close to home,” according to Dennis P. McKenna, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Albany Med Health System and The John D. Picotte Family Chair in Leadership.

“Thus, naming the Physicians Pavilion in honor of the Medical Center’s fourth and longest serving President is both fitting and right,” Cushing said. “The name James J. Barba should forever be associated with this institution. He not only saved Albany Medical Center, but he also founded the ‘new Albany Medical Center.’”

Cushing called Barba “the architect of the new Albany Medical Center,” explaining “not only did he see to it that the people of our region had world-class health care, but he also recognized our potential to spur economic development. He shared his vision for the new Albany Medical Center with generous donors. And his influence didn’t stop at the boundaries of the Medical Center. His voice was heard and respected in our community and beyond.”

Barba’s namesake pavilion is more than bricks and mortar, Dr. McKenna said. “The James J. Barba Physicians Pavilion, and its patients, people, and purpose are the essence of who we are. Inside the Pavilion, you’ll find hope, healing, and compassion. You’ll find the best physicians in the region, some of the best in the country, and some of the best in the world.”

The Physicians Pavilion, opened in 2006, stands at the west side of the Medical Center on Albany’s New Scotland Avenue and is 45,240 square feet across five floors. Its construction began the major transformation of the Medical Center and its neighborhood that took place during the Barba years.

Barba’s association with Albany Medical Center began in 1979 when he was invited by the late Matthew Bender IV to sit on the Board of Trustees of Albany Medical College. In 1986, he was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the newly formed Albany Medical Center; he was elected Chair in 1994; and less than a year later, he was named chair, president, and chief executive officer.

Under his leadership, Albany Medical Center was transformed, grew, and prospered. The Physicians Pavilion and Surgeons Pavilion were constructed, parking garages were erected, the Emergency Department was renovated and expanded, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit were also renovated, and the Patient Pavilion and Massry Family Children’s Emergency Center were built. The best and brightest physicians were recruited, many who hold dual appointments at Albany Medical College, teaching the next generation of doctors as well as engaging in scientific research and serving the community as volunteers.

In what is counted among the most ambitious building projects in the history of the City of Albany, Barba formed partnerships with private developers and the city. Together, with the Medical Center, they totally transformed several blighted, crime-ridden blocks adjacent to Albany Medical Center by building apartments with parking for residents and patients, restaurants, and retail, office, and green space.

Barba, said Cushing, “was also a persuasive and successful fundraiser, presiding over the largest capital campaigns in the history of Albany Medical Center – and bringing individual and corporate gifts that totaled nearly half-a-billion dollars to the Medical Center to help us realize our missions.”

In addition, Barba had his finger on the pulse of the community which was signaling it wanted the highest quality health care close to home. And, thus the Albany Med Health System was born with 1,520 beds, more than 800 physicians, four hospitals, a medical college, visiting nurses, 125 locations, and 16,000 employees.

While much of Barba’s time was spent on the complex issues that are part-and-parcel of health care in a changing world, he became deeply involved in the community and ultimately became the face of Albany Medical Center, a thought leader, a mentor to the young and old, and sounding board for leaders in business, education, health care, human services, and government, Cushing said. He noted Barba’s Board service at Siena College, Park Playhouse, the Albany Chamber, the Center for Economic Growth, The College of Saint Rose, the Trudeau Institute, and the Greater New York Hospital Association.

Barba held a gubernatorial appointment as co-chair of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council, bringing tens of millions of dollars in economic development funds to upstate New York. In another gubernatorial appointment, he chaired the state’s Special Advisory Commission to Restore Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, at the time the nation’s largest not-for-profit health care insurer. He masterminded the deal that reaped billions of dollars for the state while maintaining jobs and affordable insurance for its citizens.

Barba graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame and summa cum laude from Siena College.